Growing up in Imperial Valley shaped Nussbaum's character

May 26, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

Growing up in the Imperial Valley provided Thomas Nussbaum with the experience and skills to reach his goals.

While his success has taken him away from the Valley, he said his years here shaped his character and it is here that he feels comfortable.

Since 1996 Nussbaum has been the chancellor of the 107 campuses of the California Community College system.

Nussbaum was in the Valley on Saturday as the keynote speaker for the Imperial Valley College graduation ceremony.

Nussbaum told students wherever they go they will take the lessons learned in the Valley with them and those lessons can help them succeed.

"I guess while some would say I've gone on to bigger and better things, I'm here to tell you that most of what I've been able to achieve in life is owed to my upbringing and education right here in the desert," he told the 255 students taking part in the ceremony.


Nussbaum's journey started in Brawley, where he was born in 1949.

He was raised in El Centro and graduated from Central Union High School in 1967, where he played football. He remembers winning a Bell Game against the Brawley Wildcats, the first time the Spartans had done so in 13 years.

Nussbaum attended the University of California, Los Angeles and earned a degree in political science and public administration in 1971.

He then attended California Western School of Law in San Diego, earning a juris doctorate in 1975.

In 1976, after passing the bar, he moved to Sacramento and started his career with the California Community College system as an attorney. Nussbaum said he became involved in the legislative issues related to the system.

In 1996 he was named acting chancellor and later that year was named chancellor, a position he said is both tough and rewarding.

He takes pride in the way the system has grown.

There are about 1.6 million students in the system, and he said community colleges are meeting the educational needs of the masses who otherwise might not be able to obtain a college education.

"In a state like ours, with all the haves and have-nots, if we didn't have opportunities for the masses, we would have social dysfunction," he said, adding, "I believe in what we are doing for the citizens of our state."

Nussbaum added he enjoys going to colleges like IVC to share in their graduation ceremonies.

"Every time I go to a graduation, I am excited to see the hope," he said. "It validates the hard work I do. I look at the faces, the excitement and the pride. That is the main thing for me."

Nussbaum said he was glad to be the keynote speaker at IVC. He said wherever he goes he is always thinking about the Valley.

"I am always aware of IVC," he said.

He told those at the graduation that he received strength while living in the Valley, particularly in dealing with the harsh summers. He told the students they can do the same.

"This toughness goes beyond withstanding the elements," he said. "Work pressure, misfortune, you name it — we take a licking and keep on ticking."

He said living in the Valley made him self-sufficient and unpretentious.

"I'd wager that the Imperial Valley has fewer pretentious phonies per 1,000 residents than just about anywhere," he said.

Nussbaum provided students with six hints he said would help students succeed as they reach for their goals.

He said first students should not limit themselves but should stretch for their goals

Second, he said, it is essential to be good to friends, spouses and family because such relationships are the source of happiness.

Third, he told students they should find work they enjoy because they are going to spend at least half their waking hours at work.

He told students to embrace diversity, be good citizens and to stop and smell the roses. He said when all is said and done it is not so much the work they will remember but the time spent with family.

After the graduation, Nussbaum said if students take a message from him it is they can succeed if they work hard.

"The world is open as long as you want to try," he said.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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